steffensstarThat small book with its familiar yellow cover came in the mail today. It is one of the few perks in this job which I look forward to each year.

Archived Story

The Old Farmer’s Almanac is annual treat

Published 10:34am Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Though I am not really into predicting the future or astronomy and zodiac signs, I do find the annual publication always a delight, or as it says on the cover, “Useful, with a pleasant degree of humor.”

The book has been around since 1792. This year they commented on the fact we have returned somewhat to when people grew their own vegetables and shared community gardens.

From the garden planted by Michelle Obama and students at the White House, to the number of people who sell the produce at local farmers’ markets, the interest in learning about our food and organic gardens has increased.

The Almanac was the farmer’s guide as to when was the best time to plant.

The calendar tells when the sun will rise and set on each particular day and when the full moon will appear.

There are forecasts for the coming winter with the country divided up into regions.
But the book is much more than just a calendar. There are gardening tips, interesting articles and information about trends and tastes we can expect to see in 2010.

Ever get a lot of advice from everyone from your mother-in-law to your neighbor on the right way to do something?

Well they took those questions on the right way to do something, offered the suggestions and then asked the experts.

I know I have told a few people who asked how I boil an egg.

I was always taught (by who I don’t know, maybe my mother) that you cover the eggs in cold water, put it on the stove and bring to a boil, then take off the heat and cover for 20 minutes. I always use my oldest eggs too.

I was surprised that this was also the advice the experts from the American Egg Board also gave, except the time was a little less.

Those who mow the grass have their own little ways of dealing with the task. Some mow diagonally every time and others change the pattern each time they mow.

Want to know the expert’s way? Guess you will need to get a copy of the book. I don’t want to give away all their secrets.

I will say I am going to try the right way to make a grilled cheese sandwich. They added tomatoes and cloves of garlic, sprinkled with thyme and drizzled with olive oil.

There are also winning buttermilk recipes. I remember my mother and grandmother using buttermilk, but I don’t think I ever have.

I have though learned to like to use bones – for soup that is.

There is a section called, “Better Than Barebones Cooking.” My mom made great soup and she was also frugal so she used leftover bits of vegetables, even those which seemed limp, like when the celery is no longer crisp.

Like the book recommends, she also made a garni of fresh herbs tied with string.
The bones though were the secret, relatively cheap and full of flavor and probably nutrients.
She knew what the Almanac lists as the five basic ingredients for soup: water, bones, vegetables, herbs and acid (vinegar or wine).

I don’t think mine are quite as good as hers, but I can make a mean soup, especially after roasting a chicken or turkey.

Just the thought of fall coming gets me into the mood to mix up a pot of sweet smelling goodness. Add some hard crusted bread and there is nothing better.

The money saving tips are informative, including one I never think about. By dusting off your light bulbs you can make them 40 percent more efficient. You probably shouldn’t try to dust those new twisted ones though, and risk breaking them.

Being a writer, I was interested in the “10 Curious Facts about mark Twain” in this issue of the Almanac.

In 1874, they write, Twain saw a Remington typewriter in a store window in Boston. It typed only capital letters and needed a foot pedal to operate the carriage return. Still he bought it – for $125.

I wonder how much my dad’s old Remington cost?

Ever wonder where a flower got its name? There is a section on famous people who live on in your flower bed, like Pierre Magnol – magnolia, who was a French professor of botany and physician at a time when “most cures were botanical.”

And if you are into going green, there is the “Manure Manual,” which explains the benefits of growing a cover crop, which gets worked into the soil.

The Almanac has stood the test of time. I hope it continues long after I am gone.

Marcia Steffens, editor of the Niles Daily Star, Cassopolis Vigilant and Edwardsburg Argus, can be reached at

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